WRITERS WRITE: Demetria Lucas’ A Belle in Brooklyn Celebrates 7 Years (Interview)

NEW HEADSHOT SMALL 05.10.12Today marks the seventh anniversary of A Belle in Brooklyn, the blog and brainchild of writer, Demetria Lucas. Ironically, we both started as bloggers for Honey Magazine, but Lucas is proof that a solid plan and hustle go a long way.

From chronicling her dating adventures in DC and New York City to penning her famous birthday posts (check out the latest one here), the diehard PG County/Brooklyn girl has since made her mark as former Relationship editor for ESSENCE, a life coach and author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life.  She also finds time to host Cocktails with Belle, a networking event for women, in various cities and drop gems for aspiring writers who seek to follow their dreams on Twitter.

Lucas took time out of her writing schedule to chat about what it takes to be a real scribe, keeping some things sacred and creating a life for yourself.

Working for yourself, what’s a typical day for you like? Have you put yourself on a schedule?

I run a tight ship. An entrepreneur’s best motto is “you eat what you kill”, which means if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. I assign certain activities to certain days and keep that schedule religiously. There are certain days for writing my columns for various sites, other days assigned for working on book projects and other days for another project I’m working on. It takes a life or death matter to throw me off.

Describe when you knew you had to leave your position as Relationships Editor at Essence.

My first book was released in June 2011 and is thankfully, a success. I was overwhelmed with press and speaking opportunities, a thriving business as a life coach, and other projects related to the book. I was exhausted trying to do all that and keep up with a demanding job and  promoting the book.  I wasn’t giving any of my projects their just due, and that was unfair to Essence, my clients my book, and me.  I decided in September 2011 that it was time to invest in my project full-time. It was a bittersweet goodbye. I really enjoyed ESSENCE and my co-workers (so much so that I kept a daily weekday column on Essence.com for the following year), but I don’t have any regrets about my decision.

What advice do you have for women who are working traditional jobs, but would like to turn freelancer life into a full-time gig?

Save as much money as possible. I wouldn’t have considered leaving if I didn’t have a cushion. Also, make sure you have paying opportunities lined up before you go. I’m all for faith, but it doesn’t pay bills.

Any myths about working for yourself that you’d like to dispel?

We do shower. LOL. No, seriously. It’s not all fun and games. It’s great to be your own boss and take a trip or just lay in the bed when you feel like it, but it takes a LOT of responsibility and focus. There are also a LOT of financial ups and downs for a new business. You’ll always spend more than expected, you will lose clients. It’s part of the process. Working for yourself takes extraordinary discipline and patience. A great support system and surrounding yourself with other entrepreneurs helps immensely.

Your first book was a success. What are your upcoming projects? There’s another Belle Book on the way, right?

I have two big upcoming projects that I’m not at liberty to discuss just yet. But I can tell you that I’m working on three more book projects. If all goes according to plan, my next book, Don’t Waste Your Pretty, will be out later this year. It’s a Q&A guide based on my now defunct Formspring page. I answered 23,000 questions in just over two years. There are a lot of women seeking insight and I’d like to continue to provide them with healthy, useful, empowering advice. I’ll tell you about the others as soon as a release dates are set. I will say they are collaborations with some names most people would recognize.

Those who have followed you for some time knew you as Belle, not Demetria. How were you able to brand yourself and career, but still keep your identity as Demetria Lucas?

When I started my blog in 2007, it was anonymous. It was the trend at the time and I was writing about my dating experiences a lot then. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into, so it was best to be cautious. During that time is when I became known as “Belle.” There was a great reception to my blog and a friendly readership, so after a while, it felt weird to hide when I was so open about my life. When I had a 9 to 5, which I landed because of my blog and it covered similar content, or did TV appearances, I always went by my real name. The two just sort of merged after a (long) while. There were plenty of speaking engagements when I was introduced as “Belle Woods” and had to correct the person who introduced me. I even received a couple emails from people who were outraged that “some girl named Demetria is saying she writes your blog!!”

I should add, there’s no difference between “Belle” and Demetria. It never dawned on me to create some larger than life Internet persona, as some writers and bloggers do. I’m entirely blunt, occasionally rude, over think and incredibly random in real life. I think being genuine–good, bad, and even ugly– is a huge reason for the success of the A Belle in Brooklyn brand.

 Writers are celebrities, too! Fans and followers want a look into your life. With social media’s popularity, do you think it’s important to give them all-access or no? How much is too much?

I feel no desire to spill all my tea. My rule has always been to only write what I don’t mind people talking about and randomly bringing up in conversation. Everything else, I keep off social media.Also, very rarely do I write in real-time. By the time I publish a personal story about some conflict in my life, the issue usually has been resolved. Take for instance my annual birthday post where I just lay it all out there. 2012 was a doozy. I didn’t do the birthday post until January, maybe? It took that long to get through a tough spot.

There seems to be a push for entrepreneurship. Do you think everyone can really be their own boss? What does it take?

You know how Moms say to childless women, “oh, you should have one” or married people say, “you should do it at least once”? That’s how I feel about running a business. It really shows you what you’re made of– or not. It’s not for everyone, of course, but it’s worth the adventure just to say you did it. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what I am made of, and shocked by what I lack.

Demetria is hosting a Cocktails with Belle in DC tonight. Sorry, ladies, but the guest list is closed! Keep with the latest at http://www.abelleinbrooklyn.com or check out some past events here.


Teedra Talks New Music, Relationships and Moving On, Pt. II

Teedra-Moses-Luv-Rocket-e1361828026963Check out the second half of my interview with Teedra Moses! Read Part I here.

Possibly what Teedra Moses’ fans love most about her music are her relatable song lyrics. There’s atleast one song in her catalog that you’d swear she penned just for you, but she wasn’t really inside of your heads when she wrote it. Her first inspiration is her own life.

“When I write, I don’t set out to say every woman will be able to relate to this. but I just write what I feel in my heart.”

She describes her latest single, “Cant Be Luv” as a personal experience. “It’s really about contemplation of if I’m gonna give up the cookie or not,” she says. “I don’t know about other women– if they have that experience, you know? I do. I don’t just my cookies up to people like that. It’s a major contemplation in my mind should I even do this.”

It’s a real thing in her life even now. Moses is currently in a period of celibacy. “I don’t choose to give up my cookies to people, not because I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t have sex, it’s just that I’m not attracted to anybody in that way to do so, and then I have to question…well, what is it? Why is it that I’m not sexually active?”

That’s the rawness you’ll find in her music.

“That’s our responsibility. Spread a little happiness to other people, and find as much as we can for ourselves.”

Admitting that she hardly listens to R&B music, she keeps her pen and musical ear close to her heart, rather than to the streets. “Whatever the track gives, I give it back. I don’t listen to one kind of music. I don’t listen to one kind of artist. I just give to the music whatever it is at the time.”

There are more heartfelt tracks on her upcoming album, Empress Pride Collection like “People Chaos,” which describes her relationship with the greatest love of her life, and father of her twin sons. She sings about loving who you’re with, but knowing you aren’t right for each other. “No Regrets,” laced with live instrumentation, tells the story of her life having her sons at a young age.

“I’m speaking on having kids young, falling in love really young and how I don’t regret it, even though it changed the course of how I thought I life would go,” she says. “Even though my life isn’t what I thought it would be at 15, I’m so happy with it. I thought I would be married with the picket fence and whatever, but I’m okay without that.”

Teedra will be showering her fans with her love through her newest music later this month at Singersroom’s Rhythm Effect Series at SOB’s in New York City. Expect a funky, but sexy live show with something for everyone.

She sings about love, but her message to her fans is about life. “My ultimate message is always to live your life—to the fullest. Life is too short to spend any second of it giving up your time, your effort, your love and your passion to shit that doesn’t matter to you.

I think life is about finding your purpose and obtaining purpose and fulfilling your purpose. I try to push that message always because that’s what I’m always trying to do.”

Keep up with Teedra at www.teedramoses.net or follow her on Twitter.

Teedra Moses Talks New Album, Relationships and Moving On, Part I

teedra mosesIf you know me, you know I’m the founder and president of the Teedra Moses fan club (atleast in my head) Check out my two-part interview with her where she discusses her new music, her inspiration for songwriting and what her message to fans is this time around. Part II will be posted next week!

Singer/songwriter Teedra Moses had recently finished wrapping up a video shoot for her new single, Cant’ Be Luv,” recently released on Black Moses Music when she hops on the phone to talk about what’s in store for her and her fans. That’s right, The Lioness will drop her long-awaited album, Empress Pride Collection, on June 25. It’s her first major project since her debut album, Complex Simplicity in 2004.

Like always, it was like talking to an old friend.

Moses is known for bringing sexy love anthems like “Be Your Girl” and “Kisses Never Taste So Sweet,” but this time around, her inspiration comes from a different place. “I’m feeling very strong and empowered, but also wanting and feeling the need for the comfort of a man,” she says.

So, be prepared for a new vibe on this project, which features seven to 10 tracks, as she tackles where she is in her womanhood and music career. “I’m not 25 anymore, you know what I mean, so I’m not writing as a 25-year-old young woman. I’m writing as a grown ass woman in my 30s. I just make records, that’s who I am.”

Moses has been in the trenches working as an independent artist, gaining fans by releasing mixtapes like the Young Hustla Compilation series and giving live performances throughout the country. In 2011, the world waited for more music from Moses after it was reported on Twitter that she’d signed to Maybach Music Group, but Moses says no contracts were signed. She’s definitely affiliated with the platinum hip-hop label, lending her sultry voice to a list of MMG hits like “Self Made” and “Amsterdam.”

“I’m not 25 anymore, you know what I mean, so I’m not writing as a 25-year-old young woman. I’m writing as a grown ass woman in my 30s.”

“We were in talks of it, and it just never came about,” Moses says. “We definitely respect each other’s talent and if they need me to sing on anything, I’ll sing. If I need to reach out to them, I’m sure they’ll do the same for me.”

Two years later and countless live shows in, it was a stint in the UK that pushed the former fashion stylist to release new music. She performed mostly in London, where her fan base is just as large as it is in the States. “It all kind of helped me to get myself to this place where like, yo, I gotta put out music. I can’t keep waiting for people that say that want to support the project to do that. I have to just do that myself.”

She’s a self-starter, for sure. To keep her sound fresh, but consistent, she’s been working with other musicians and artists who fly below the radar. “I connect a lot with underground producers, up and coming producers for a different sound than what’s is already in the marketplace,” she says. “That’s kind of what the album is full of. It’s very musical, but at the same time, it’s got that modern sound to it, as well. I’m really excited about it.”

Yes, there’s a U.S. tour in the works, too, beginning in July. Teedra won’t be the headliner though. “Instead of me going out by myself, I would prefer to go out with someone with a bigger fan base,” she says. “I just try to build my movement and expand it as much as possible. I’ve been so blessed to carry so many people with me from the beginning and then gain people along the way.”

Bottom line: It’s Teedra’s time to shine. “Witness what I’m doing and if they like it, they can get down with it; if they don’t, they can pass on it, but I just feel like I want to give people the opportunity to see it.”

We know it’ll be worth the wait.

Check back next week for Part II of Teedra’s interview. 


The Valentine’s Day Edition: Teedra Moses Talks Love and Music

Love Day is here, and no matter how your day is going, you can unwrap the gift of great  music from a real artist. Check out this exclusive interview.

When Teedra Moses, a New Orleans native, dropped Complex Simplicity in 2004, she became every woman’s “friend in their head.” She sings candidly about love and life in songs like her breakout single, “Be Your Girl” and fan favorite, “Backstroke.” Though she’s not on a major label, in the seven years since her debut album, she’s never left her fans waiting in the balance for music, releasing four mixtapes and several singles. From Twitter to music blogs, fans sing her praises while waiting patiently for her next album, The Lioness.

Moses released her second video for “R U 4 Real” today as the climax to her “10 Days to Valentine’s Day” promotion. For 10 days, fans submitted their best and worst Valentine’s Day stories, and Moses released new tracks, including the banger, “Fallin’ 4 U”. She talks to Because I Said So about why her fans will never go without quality music, her thoughts on love and why Valentine’s Day is just one day on the journey in love.

Last year you released the Royal Patience Compilation on February 14, now you’ve released the “R U 4 Real” video on Valentine’s Day.  Is Valentine’s Day your favorite holiday?

Not really. It just seems like maybe it takes me a year for me to get my head wrapped around what I want to give people. I always look at it like this: Well, this year, my Valentines are the people who like my music, so I’ll extend this to them and them appreciating it  is enough to give me the “keep moving vibe.”

What are you thoughts on love?

I’m in a place right now where I think that love is one of the most beautiful things. And maybe I’m drawn to Valentine’s Day because in my heart I believe in love, and I believe that a lot of people are jaded and don’t want to love anymore  because they’ve been hurt or people have ulterior motives or people are just afraid to put themselves out there, but love is something everybody needs. I don’t care who you are, how selfish you are, every human being needs to know somebody cares, they long for that, atleast. I just feel like that’s something everybody can relate to.

For those who may not be familiar with your music, how would you describe your music?

There’s something about my life… It’s really weird to say, but it really is, in a way, a complex simplicity because there’s something very hard about it, but some kind of way, I find there’s easiness, too. I think that’s the mood I try to put off in my music. It’s something that’s easy on your ears, but its’ still beating hard enough to pull out a little bit of the swag in you.

Fans love your music because the lyrics resonate with them. How are you able to be so honest in your songwriting?

Sometimes, it’s not as honest as I would like to push out of myself. When I connect with the track, it pulls at something that’s already going on in my mind or in my heart. When I’m honest with my myself—completely honest–when you get a great freestyle going, and the words are just coming out of your mouth, you know at that moment somebody else is going to feel that, too, because it’s honest. One of the songs I did like that was “R U 4 Real.” Which was a freestyle. The words weren’t super-profound, but the feeling and the emotion and honesty of how I felt at that time really connected to me.

You maintain a great relationship with your fans via social media websites like  Facebook and Twitter. How has social media helped your career?

There’s a shift in music. Fans are reaching out for reality. It’s all in God’s timing. I feel like the impact of the Teedra Moses movement is reaching a peak right now of how hard I’ve been working because of social networking and the viral way you can move on the Internet versus three years ago.They should have never let the people be able to connect with the artist because we’re gonna keep moving. It’s getting easier.

Speaking of social media, if you read fans’ tweets about you, you’ll find they speak of a mood or a feeling your music provides. What’s your reaction?

That’s  makes me feel good that people can connect with what I feel is a representation of me  and what I’m giving at that time. I’m trying to connect with people, and even when I do put out an album, people will say, ‘Okay, she’s been consistent enough for me to deserve to go out and give my money to her.” People just assume that just because they put out music, that people are just supposed  to continue to just support them, but times have changed. People can get music for free. So, I figure if I can give some good music that you can vibe to for free, in the end when I say, ‘Hey, can you give me $10 for this album?’ people won’t have a problem doing that.

What are your favorite love songs?

Teena Marie’s “Cassonova Brown.” That’s one of my favorite love songs because she’s singing about love, but she tormented. She loved a foul ass man. She loves him so much…but her baby’s fine. He always keeps her guessing, never second-guessing. She wrote the hell out of that song. “Ribbon in the Sky.” It’s just so basic and pretty and a beautiful love song.

You get this question often, but when will the album drop?

I always give a date that I’m shooting for, so this year, I’m shooting for around August (2011), but until then, you always get music from me. My thing is this: I’m gonna keep giving music consistently, but now I’m giving visuals. I’m gonna give you visuals and music until I can make the album the way I want it, and that takes a certain amount of finances.

The fans of this music that I’m doing—I want to please you, but in order to please you, I have to really please myself enough to give it to you comfortably. […..]is never losing interaction with the fans. I continue to try to do shows, I try to continue to give away music to the fans. Before everybody was doing it, I was giving away music on mixtapes. Hopefully, this is enough for fans to understand that I’m really working hard. In order for me to get the quality of what I want to extend ,because I do care, I just need  little more help, but that’s just the unfortunate truth, and I’m not worried about because I’ve worked hard all year because of social networking and the music change.

Lastly, any words for fans on Valentine’s Day?

As human beings, we should know that February 13, 14, 15,  no matter what day is, it’s a precious day. We should be grateful for it, even if we’re celebrating someone ele’s love or thinking about a past love, or looking to the future to say, ‘When I have a Valentine..’  Those are the sort of things I do because I haven’t had a Valentine, you know? I don’t really get caught up with the fact of not having a Valentine. You know what I think?:  If I had a Valentine, this is what I would do, and I when I get a Valentine’s this what I’m gonna do.

You just have to be optimistic, and understand what we want. Once we understand what we want, maybe we can understand how to get what we want. First thing is, you want more than just a damn Valentine. You just want that real thing. Don’t get caught up in the whole Valentine’s thing because you have to know that it’s going to come. It’s a blessing.

Visit http://www.teedramoses.netto check out her new video, “R U 4Real,” information on shows and other music downloads.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Author Aliya S. King Talks PLATINUM

By now, if you’re into books, you’ve seen or heard the buzz about Aliya S. King’s first novel, Platinum.  An award-winning journalist and author, she wrote Faith Evans’ memoir, Keep the Faith and Frank Lucas’ memoir, Original Gangster. King’s first novel was released Tuesday and she’s been on the move promoting it everywhere from readers’ living rooms to Ustream chats and her celebrity-filled launch party.

About Platinum:

King’s heroine is Alex Sampson Maxwell, a freelance entertainment journalist who’s covered some of the era’s biggest names, currently booked solid preparing to marry a well-known rapper named Birdie–divorced, with a young daughter–while ghostwriting the memoirs of infamous home-wrecking groupie Cleo. When she’s assigned an additional story on rappers and their relationships, things get really precarious–as difficult as her relationship is already (especially in dealing with her stepdaughter-to-be) Alex’s new story teaches her the multiple ways that fame can cripple a relationship, if not kill it outright.

-Reed Business Information via Amazon.com

Since finding her blog last year, I’ve been a faithful reader. I even made her My Mentor in my Head, as she gives awesome advice on writing and journalism. Imagine the joy when I found out she was going to be New Orleans during the Essence Music Festival for a book reading and signing. I marched into the Morial Convention Center bright and early on Sunday to catch her third and last appearance.

No Aliya.

She was running late, and the folks at the AOL/Blackvoices booth had no idea when she’d get there. Unfortunately, I had to pick a friend up from the airport in less than an hour. I walked around aimlessly for awhile to kill time. I crossed my fingers and went by the booth again to find a petite little woman sitting behind the counter jotting notes in a notebook. There were several shiny books set up around her. Aliya S. King had arrived. Score.

I walked right up as if I’d met her before and introduced myself. She gave me a big hug. What a sweetie! There was no one else at the booth, and there was no time like the present, so I took it upon myself to do a brief interview about PLATINUM. She talked about her celebration plans for her first novel, character development and the secret to writing. Check it out:

Tell me about your experiences so far.

I’m very excited. I’m grateful that Simon & Schuster is supporting me and sending me out (for a tour) because I know it’s not always that way. New writers don’t always get the opportunity. It’s also been humbling. I’m sitting here, you know, and in my mind it’ll be this long line of people lined up waiting for my book, and it’s not that way. You have to build your audience, so I’m learning a lot, too.

How have people been receiving Platinum in your readings?

I can’t tell–it was hard to tell. I know people wer interested, walking by and stopping and listening. What was crazy was Cynthia Rowell from The Young and the Restless was going on after me, and she got there and she was in the audience. She won a copy of the book! I asked a question about one of the characters, and she totally got it right.  She won a copy of the book, and made me sign it for her, and it was awesome.

What will you do when your book drops?

It’s funny, my schedule is ridiculous (opens her packed leather planner). Everything is a mess, but on the actual day the book comes out, I don’t have anything to do. No interviews scheduled, no readings–no nothing. I literally have the day to myself, so the only thing I’m gonna do is go buy my book. (See a video of Aliya purchasing PLATINUM here.)

Did writing successful memoirs allow you to get your foot in the door for writing novels?

No, they’re very different. It’s like being an opera singer and then all of sudden becoming a rapper. You deal with different people, different teams. I don’t think that writing a memoir is a foot in the door for writing fiction. I mean, I do think that the fact that I wrote the Faith book, and it did well helped me somewhat, but really they’re two different worlds. I don’t think they’re necessarily related.

And I didn’t find out until after I sold my novel–my agent told me that most writers don’t do both. They stick to one or the other. It didn’t dawn on me that I couldn’t do both.

Which do you prefer?

I love both. I look at it as writing. I can’t say I’ve ever really thought of it as one or the other. It’s like being able to be right-handed and left-handed. I don’t really see a difference. Fiction is a little bit scarier because I don’t have anyone to lean on and say, ‘This is our book together.’ But besides that…

You dole out a lot of valuable information to new and aspiring writers on your website. Most writers would keep their tricks to themselves, but you don’t. Why?

Right. I feel like that’s my job.

For new writers, a major problem is developing the characters. How did you go about developing your characters? What do you recommend?

I was at a signing yesterday with Zane and she was telling me how much character development she does before she starts writing, and I have to be honest and say I don’t do that. I think about the character for a little bit before I start writing, but I find if I just sit my butt down and write something, the characters will start to develop themselves.

It’s so easy to say ‘my characters aren’t developed, so I can’t write.’ It’s just an excuse. Sit down and write anything. They’ll start doing something. If you start writing, they’ll start doing something. You don’t have a choice. We all know people. Write a character that’s just like your mom or your auntie, or sister. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have wait until inspiration strikes you. Just write.

Do you think you’ll have this experience with PLATINUM where your characters are so close to real people?

Of course! There’s a character in my book that very, very, very similar to myself, and I knew that going in. I warned my husband ahead of time, ‘this is totally very similar to me, but noting similar to you.’ I think that’s just a part of writing. You’re going to find that some of your characters are similar to people in real life. I don’t know if you can really escape that. Most fiction writers definitely include characters that are somewhat autobiographical.

Stephen King is one of my favorite writers and just about all of his books take place in the area where he grew up. It’s called “Write what you know.”

Before I could finish, people were lining up to see what the novel was about.

She even signed a copy for me!

 I’m almost done, and I can say, honestly that it’s a page-turner! Look here for to read the full first chapter of PLATINUM.

A Talk With Phylicia Rashad

Today I took part in a lifestyle blogger conference call with the ever so talented and fabulous, Phylicia Rashad (Yes, that one! **Swoon**). She was everything I imagined her to be–eloquent, funny and real. She discussed her role as co-star Common’s mother, Ella McKnight, in the upcoming film, Just Wright, how she selects acting roles, fashion and her love for hip-hop.

How she prepared for her role as a basketball mother

People always ask about the Claire Huxtable character in everything that is done. How does she compare to me as a person? How is she different from this particular mother? The thing about being a mother is just being a mother. For me, it isn’t rocket science. Being a mother is heartfelt, whether you are a good one, or a bad one. (In Just Wright) the mother understands that the son is a man, and he’s still the son. I can say that for myself: My son is a grown man, but he’s still my child. Mothers just feel that way. It doesn’t change.

Why you should see Just Wright

This was a great film to be apart of. The chemistry of all the people who worked on this film transferred onto the screen. It’s a film that satisfies so many people, and you can take anybody in your family to see it.

Her feelings about hip hop after working with Queen Latifah and Common

Oh, I like em! (Queen Latifah and Common) …..(On hip-hop) I don’t like crass language. It says to me that someone is without poetry. If you want to hear poetry, go back and listen to the blues. ‘My baby done left me.’ Aww, baby, now I like that. I like the musicality (of hip-hop). I think we need to offer our young people musical instruction. And how the rest of the world rejoices in it (hip-hop) is really something to see. You see people in Japan wearing their hats backwards and pants down. Don’t tell me people don’t have influence. People have influence. Young people are influential.

On how she selects acting projects

I look to see if there’s truth in it, you know. I look to see if there’s something that resonates with me. If it isn’t in the characters themselves, it might be in the form of whatever work that is–the genre. Also, I look at with whom I will be working. And sometimes I work with people I have not worked with before, and it’s always exciting.

Her first thoughts about her character, Lena Younger, in the screen adaptation of A Raisin in the Sun.

I didn’t see that character in a woman. Does that make sense? A woman–the woman. The woman who loves a man in every way a woman can–and only that one man…what that means. It’s hidden in the writing, but with Kenny Leon, the director, I was allowed to explore that. And that’s why he wanted me to play the role because he said I’d do something different.

How she keeps her signature youthful glow

Sleep is your best friend–sleep and water. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. Products? I use Spahtika!

On First Lady Michelle Obama

She is so completely comfortable in her skin. There are a great number of people who look at her with appreciation and respect. I think she represents our country very well. The American woman is about intelligence–about mother and wife. She is woman and she is that so naturally.

Her style and why she’s not a shopaholic

I look at the way a garment makes me feel. I’m big on comfort. It’s not about being pinched up and pulled together–feeling like a truffed up turkey. Oh no, that will never do. I like garments that are extremely feminine. I like things that just grab you and say, “Ooh, take me!” I see garment and think, ‘I’m never gonna see that again. I’m gonna get that.’

I don’t go shopping every month, or every week. Sometimes I don’t go shopping for a whole year because I’m not that kind of person and because I have so many lovely things that I can interchange them. I like to create a look. I like to take something from here and over there and back yonder, and put it together. That’s fun.

Reflections on the late singer/actress/activist Lena Horne

She was an amazing human being. She was as fiery as she was beautiful, and that fire was a fire of intellect–very keen intellect. She thought deeply about everything she did, and she felt deeply about everything she did. She was a person who was very loyal and devoted in her friendships. She loved her family deeply. She was a woman who endured more than we’ll ever know. I consider myself very privileged to have met her and to have spent time just talking with her.

Be sure to check Ms. Rashad out along with Queen Latifah, Common and Paula Patton in Just Wright, May 15.

*Photo courtesy of 42 West PR

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Friday night, I braved the cold and snow to attend a book reading/signing for author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez’s first novel, Wench. Out of all of the book reviews I’ve done, this was my very time actually attending a book signing. I’d already done the book review for a publication, including a phone interview with her. She’s a native Memphian who is finally getting the recognition she deserves in the literary industry.

What intrigued me most wasn’t that the body of work came from a Memphian, but the story itself is one that needs to be shared. It’s a fictional take on history, a love story and look at friendship between women and slaves. I’m half-way through the book and I feel like I know each of these women. They each have a special story to tell–and it all takes place while on “vacation” at Tawawa House.

Tawawa House resort is located in the free state of Ohio in the mid-1800s. Beautiful and secluded, it is also the place where white masters vacation with their enslaved mistresses, including Lizzie, Reenie and Sweet. Over the years, the three women have formed a bond through commonalities and differences—physical and psychological ties to their masters and family matters. Enter Mawu, another mistress from Louisiana, who shares dreams of freedom with the women—after all, they are in a free state. All four women’s relationships with their masters and their lives on their respective plantations chance being changed forever.

The Tawawa House was a real place, open from 1851-1854. It later became Wilberforce College, a historically black university. “There was no record left behind (from vacationers or slaves),” says Perkins-Valdez. “I couldn’t stop asking myself, ‘how did it happen? How did they get away with it?’ I decided I would go into the imaginative side.” 

A novel about slave mistresses isn’t a new idea–consider Sally Hemmings’ reported longtime relationship with president Thomas Jefferson or any Alex Haley novel (Roots, Queen). What is new is a story told from several women’s points of view. Each character has her own relationship with her master, some based on love, others based on shame and ownership. She has hopes for herself and her children who are born into slavery, but have nearly white skin and straight hair. What will their futures look like? Will they ever be free? 

Perkins-Valdez vividly paints each picture to illustrate the complexity in these slaves’ relationships. Everything isn’t as black and white as one would like to think. “This is a part of out shared American history,” said Perkins-Valdez at the book review. “It’s healthy to talk about it.”

Currently residing in Seattle, Washington, Perkins-Valdez is very much in touch with her southern roots. “I will always carry Memphis with me,” she says. “I think it’s (Wench) a book that every person with interest in the history and legacy of slavery should read.”

Check Perkins-Valdez out at www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com.

**Some excerpts taken from the January 2010 issue of Grace Magazine.